Stack's Magnificent 1901-O Barber Half
James Aloysius Stack is not a name that most collectors of today remember as one of greatest numismatists of all time, and yet, the coins that he collected beginning in the late 1930s through his death in 1951 are often found among today’s finest known of each issue. While not related to the well-known numismatic Stack family of New York, James Stack was a client of Joseph and Morton Stack, and his family subsequently consigned portions of the James A. Stack Collection to Stack’s of New York beginning with the sale of his quarter dollars and half dollars in March 1975.
Stack’s magnificent 1901-O Barber Half was sold as lot 602 in that 1975 sale, and is a strong example of the quality that we have come to expect from the James A. Stack provenance. More importantly, this coin exactly matches the 1975 halftone, which demonstrates the primary benefit of provenance research in today’s age of endless additions and subtractions in search of a higher grade. This 1901-O simply needs no certified grade, as it is exactly the quality that we refer to as ‘Gem’. The luster is clearly original, the color natural and beautiful, vividly toned in a rich blue and green near the rims, blending to violet then amber in the main fields and continuing toward lighter golden centers, in a pattern often found from long term storage in a Wayte Raymond National Coin Album. An accumulation of small marks on Liberty’s cheek, at her eyebrow, the back of her cap, and her lower neck combine to set the grade, yet none are individually significant. The strike is exceptional for a 1901-O, with strong lower leaves and a nearly complete upper right shield corner.
The finest known 1901-O Barber Half is certainly the Steven Duckor PCGS MS67+ #16398779, which has sold twice in the past decade, at Heritage Auctions’ sale of the Duckor Collection, August 2010, lot 3201 at $63,250 and then in October 2015, lot 3292 at $64,625. The ‘plus’ suffix is a bit of a stretch here, as it is not quite in the class of the best PCGS/CAC MS67+ Barber Halves, but it is still the best 1901-O.
This Stack-Byers-Gardner PCGS MS66 is easily the second finest 1901-O. While certainly not of the grade level, it still rivals Duckor’s MS67+ from the point of desirability.
Dale Friend’s PCGS MS66 was sold by Heritage Auctions in January 2009, lot 3887, at $23,000 to me (OCNUMIS). It is an attractive, lightly toned coin, which is now certified as PCGS MS66+ #21554882, included in the CAC Census, and currently in the Hansen Collection. However, the incomplete strike and facial marks including a line curving down from the back of Liberty’s nose keep this in a distant third place.
The newest addition to the PCGS Population Report, and the likely fourth best 1901-O, is PCGS MS66 #39425236 from the Maurice Storck Collection sold by Heritage Auctions, October 2020, lot 18208 at $21,600.
In his 1998 catalogue of the Dr. Thaine Price Collection, David Akers noted “The 1901-O Barber Half Dollar is one of the premier issues in the Barber Half Series …”. With the benefit of hindsight after 20 years of sales of the finest Barber Half Collections in history – Hugon, Friend, Duckor, Shireman – David’s 1998 assessment survives today.
James A. Stack (prior to his death in 1951); Stack’s “James A. Stack Collection of U.S. Quarters & U.S. Half Dollars”, March 1975, lot 602 @ $650 as “Brilliant Uncirculated”; George Byers; Stack’s “George ‘Buddy’ Byers”, October 2006, lot 1344 @ $32,200 as “Gem Brilliant Uncirculated”; Eugene H. Gardner; Heritage Auctions “Eugene H. Gardner, Part I”, June 2014, lot 30558 @ $21,150 as PCGS MS66 #05988637.